Jump to main navigation, main content

Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Free software I couldn't be without

A few of my favourite applications have recently hit new milestone releases, and it has led me to think about what programs I use to do all the things I do. Turns out I use a lot of programs, and most are free (legally). Here’s my list of most liked free applications:

Miro 1.0

Miro 1.0 has finally been released. Miro is the re-named Democracy Player which I’ve been raving about for nearly a year, a couple of times on my website. As a quick re-cap (or introduction for those that haven’t read about it before), it is a video library manager - a lot like iTunes, but specifically for video. And there are literally thousands of video channels to discover through the channel guide, or you can subscribe to any vodcast on the internet. Miro downloads new episodes automatically and supports HD content out of the box. The software rocks. It’s Open Source, it’s cross platform.


I’ve recently re-discovered SmartFTP. Back in the day I didn’t like it much and switched to Filezilla (SmartFTP wasn’t free if memory serves, now it is). I’d been having some issues with Filezilla 3.0 causing my PC to freeze so I took a look at SmartFTP again. I’m glad I did because it’s brilliant. It has a tabbed interface so you can have multiple servers and multiple local locations open at once, and a feature that I loved about CuteFTP but wasn’t willing to pay for - the ability to ‘lock’ navigation, so that when you navigate the directories on your local system the remote system navigates to the same place. When you FTP a lot, that is a huge time-saver. There’s also a sync option for keeping folders synchronous between your local machine and the FTP server. Yes, this is me advising a closed-source program over an Open Source alternative (Filezilla)! It’s Windows only. As a quick note - Filezilla is easier than SmartFTP to use and set up if you are a casual user, but SmartFTP has the features you need if you use FTP a lot.

Aptana Studio formerly Aptana IDE

Aptana I mentioned a long time ago, but it’s more than worth mentioning again because I’m continually impressed with it. I can’t imagine using any other software to author my websites since Aptana hit version 1.0 a couple of weeks ago. It features code hinting, browser compatibility notes, JavaScript library hinting and set-up, plus loads more. It’s awesome if you code by hand (which you should if you care about good quality code). It’s Open Source, and cross platform. There’s a community version and a ‘for money’ pro version. I use the community version, but when I need SFTP I’ll be very happy to pay the £50 for it. Dreamweaver is after all £394, despite it’s poor code output.


I got sick of WinRAR’s nagging to buy it so downloaded the Open Source 7zip instead (Windows only). Works great, no nagging. Handles zip, RAR, TAR, and all the other likely compression formats.

Pigin IM

I’ve never liked MSN or Windows Messenger, the advertisements annoy me for a start. I’m very very rarely on an IM client anyway, but when I am I use Pidgin, which is the re-named GAIM, an Open Source IM client that can run on multiple networks (MSN, AIM, etc). It is also cross platform.

VLC Media Player

For quickly playing videos I’ve found nothing to beat VLC - the open source player that will play almost any file format and opens really fast. It’s Open Source too.


For the odd bit of video editing and/or re-coding that I do I use VirtualDub - it’s been around for years, but it’s still being updated by its author. It’s fast with re-coding and opening files, simple to use, and surprisingly powerful.


On the rare occasion I need to edit sound files I use Audacity, again it’s been around for a long time, but it is a brilliant bit of software. Open Source.

Open Office

For office applications I use Open Office. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Office and are not a power user with a penchant for macros you will find this more than good enough. It opens Microsoft Office documents, though the display of them can be slightly off if the document contained a lot of fancy stuff, but that’s less and less of a problem as updates keep being applied. Open Source, cross platform.

Comodo Firewall

Free Firewall software for Vista seems nearly non existent, but when running Windows XP I use the fantastic (and very well renowned) Comodo Firewall. Doesn’t nag too much, is safe as houses. Not open source, but it is free. I’m still waiting for version 3 (which will support Vista). Comodo Firewall is Windows only.

AVG Free

Anti virus comes via the ubiquitous AVG Free, which does work well. Again, Windows only, but only Windows needs anti-virus really.

Spybot Search and Destroy

Spyware is caught and destroyed with Windows Defender (which comes with Vista, not that it’s ever had any spyware on the system thanks to Comodo, AVG, and Firefox…) but if I had to use something else it’d be Spybot Search and Destroy. Free, Windows only.


Browsing, of course, Firefox. Open Source, cross platform, brilliant in every way.


Email, of course, Thunderbird. Open Source, cross platform, brilliant in every way.

Torrent clients

Torrenting I don’t do, but Azureus is the defacto standard client. Open Source, cross platform. You may like to try uTorrent if you prefer a more user-friendly and less power-user type experience, or if you like to leave your PC running your Torrent client and would like to check up on it via the web while you are out…

Audio playback

The only thing missing off my list is an Open Source equivalent for iTunes that runs on Windows (Linux gets the far superior amaroK and/or Banshee, or the ‘works well’ Rhythmbox). I keep hoping one day Songbird will make it to 1.0, but it’s been in pre-release development for at least a year and a half now. It’s only hit 0.3, and it frankly sucks at the moment. Great concept, terrible execution. A shame because I hate iTunes, yet have to use it all the time (iTunes code is designed by malicious or incompetent monkies. It’s a huge application, updated constantly, each update requires you download the entire application again and Quicktime too. And then it installs shortcuts all over the place again, and forces you to reboot the PC before it finishes up. It’s a bitch to migrate your library. The UI mac-ification means that the close, minimise, and maximise buttons are all offset from where they should be - which is annoying when you are trying to rapidly minimize a bunch of windows and get stuck on iTunes), it’s a system hog, and it auto-boots the iTunes update software as a service that loads when Windows does (to hog yet more resources)). I do not like iTunes.


skip to comment form
  1. Phil posted 5hrs, 39min, 26sec after the entry and said:

    Open Office, Firefox (goes without saying) and 7zip are fantastic, particularly 7zip replacing WinRAR, I can't stand being nagged!

    I've tried Aptana before, but thought it was too big and clunky compared to the lightweight text editors I was used to. Now it has made it to version 1, I might give it another go, especially as it has an AIR plugin too.

    Nice list!

  2. Philip Roche posted 18hrs, 3min, 42sec after the entry and said:

    A very nice and comprehensive list. I'd suggest looking at Joost to complement Miro.

    I'd also add the following : Putty, Skype, JEdit, Scite, Paint.Net, CDBurnerXP, PDFCreator and maybe Picasa as a photo management app.

  3. Matt Wilcox posted 20hrs, 58min, 37sec after the entry and said:

    Phil - Aptana is well worth a re-try, it's been improving rapidly (the PHP plug-in is great too). A word of warning though - It isn't fast to load, but it's not meant to be a textpad replacement. It's a project focused tool rather than a document focused tool, so it isn't designed to be fast and simple like that.

    Phil - Joost I have tried, and frankly do not like. There just aren't enough programs on it, and I got sick of "you are not an American" messages pretty fast. It's a brilliant bit of software in theory - but in practice I've found it to be a lot less good than I'd hoped (not entirely the fault of Joost itself, a lot of my disappointment is down to archaic copyright restrictions. The lack of HD content is a big let down too). Some nice additions to the list though. I'd better go check out Scite as it's the only one I've not used or heard of.

  4. Ed Everett posted 1 days, 19hrs, 17mins after the entry and said:

    I'd second Aptana as now being a nice program - it has great JavaScript support.

    I recently made a list of the front end development tools I use : http://edeverett.co.uk/selected-front-end-dev-tools Most are free.

  5. Matt Wilcox posted 11 days, 23hrs, 37mins after the entry and said:

    And no sooner did I post this entry than COMODO released the final version of COMODO Firewall 3.


From the archives

Other enteries filed under:

My Two Cents

Site information

Built with valid XHTML and CSS, designed with web standards and accessibility in mind. Best viewed in a modern browser [Firefox, Safari, Opera]

This domain and all content is a copy of my old website, for historical purposes only.